The distinctions between Old World wines and New World wines are commonly misunderstood. Many people throw these terms around broadly, saying they prefer Old to New or New to Old without really knowing what the difference is between the two styles, or what makes a wine truly Old World or New World. At VinePair we don’t believe one style is better than the other, but we’re going to break down what each term means so you can better understand and use them.

Old World Wine vs. New World Wine

When someone uses the term Old World they are referring to wines made in countries that are considered the birthplaces of wine, basically that’s Europe and the Middle East. Some of the countries that are Old World include: France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Portugal, Austria, Greece, Lebanon, Israel, Croatia, Georgia, Romania, Hungary and Switzerland.

Characteristically, wines from the Old World tend to be lighter-bodied, more restrained, and lower in alcohol, though this is very much a generalization and not always true. The main trait all Old World wine countries have in common is that their wine making is heavily restricted, with guidelines all wineries must follow. Each country and region of that country in the Old World has been making wine a certain way for centuries, and current winemakers are held to those old standards. Many times the reason a person says they prefer Old World wine is simply because there is a heritage behind the wine they are drinking. As wine drinkers, it is romantic to realize the wine in our glass has been made the same way for centuries.

New World wines come from countries that used to be colonies, including the U.S., and are in hotter climates, which, generally speaking, causes wines from the New World to be fuller bodied and have bolder fruit flavors. They also tend to be higher in alcohol. New World countries include: the U.S., New Zealand, Argentina, Chile, Australia and South Africa.

Wines and the winemakers in the New World embody the entrepreneurial spirit you would expect from descendants of immigrants that struck out searching for a new and better life in another place. In these regions the winemaking practices vary dramatically, and there is much experimentation. The New World generally places less emphasis on making wine the same way it has been made for centuries, and more emphasis on making wine that takes advantage of modern advances.

Sometimes you will hear people use the term New World condescendingly, as a way to undermine a wine, preferring the romanticism of the Old World, which we find silly. The current trend in wine is to prefer Old World to New World, just as vintage styles are back in vogue, but trends ebb and flow and we think down the road preferences will again swap, just as they did in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s. If you come in contact with a person who sweepingly says they only drink one style or the other, share your knowledge and remind them that both styles have wonderful things to offer.

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